Interview: John McLaughlin, North Metro Miracle League
1. John, give us a little background on you, and why you decided to start the NMML? I became an advocate for the disabled in the wake of 9/11. The events of the day made me frustrated when I was about to retire (from Delta as a pilot). I knew sitting around would drive me crazy. I wanted to do something constructive.
2. What have you seen that has surprised you over the course of time? I had no previous experience with people in the disability community and you parents have totally redefined 24/7 and unconditional love. You folks are the silent (perhaps too silent) heroes in our community. People have no idea how your lives where changed when your child was born or injured.
3. I read that a similar league has been started in Dallas/Fort Worth, modeled after the NMML? Do you think what has been done here has the legs to be done in every major metro in the USA? We are working with 29 other organizations across the country. Delegations have come from all over the country to visit our prototype facility. We provide them with power point programs and blue prints to get them started and continue to support them through out their development.
4. So where does it go from here? There’s a bowling league, swimming – what’s next, what do you see in the future? The out door multi purpose sport court will be in by next summer so we can offer adapted versions of basketball, tennis, volley ball, soccer and football. We have funding from the Atlanta Falcons and the federal government (CDBG Grant). The concession area will finally be fully equipped by the end of the year. Our long-range plan calls for a $5,000,000 indoor facility.
5. How has dealing with these children and families impacted you? How do you think you’ve impacted them? Working on this project has become an obsession. Merrily and I get our energy from the players. There isn’t one of them that have not found a way to enrich our lives or teach us something new and important. They will do that to anyone if they are only given the chance.
One of the most important changes was my ability to now see the person first and not the disability. In the beginning I seemed to always see the disability first. Now the disability is still there but is has moved into the background and I am able to see the person. The disability is now just a fact and no longer an issue or barrier.
I hope Merrily (my wife) and I have brought some sense of “normalcy” into the children’s lives and the lives of their parents. Now kids and parents are doing things they thought were impossible or just not accessible. They are doing things that should be a part of every child’s growth and development. I think we have created a comfort zone and a learning laboratory that changes the way people think about themselves and others. Perhaps now the greater community is more willing to include, accommodate and value members of the disability community.
6. What do you say to people who say that you, and what you’ve done with the NMML, have made a difference in their children’s lives? Do you ever sit back and contemplate that? Sometimes Merrily and I are so busy that we don’t realize what has evolved with our help and the help of so many other generous and talented people. We have seen it grow inch by painful inch so the impact of what is out there isn’t the same to us as is would be to a person walking into the facility and a game day for the first time. We are very proud of our part in creating the NMML, we are also humbled by what the parents do every day of their lives. That is much tougher on the heart and mind that what we do. Perhaps is some way we are trying to honor the parents as well as serve the kids.
Let me tell you about how it impacts us: Every Saturday morning Demetrius gets up and he basically is so excited he yells everything…from his breakfast orders barked at his mommy to talking back to the TV while watching cartoons. He talks constantly about ‘Jonathan’ his helper, his baseball game, and wants to know when its time to leave. We get to the field and he runs around and smiles and actually tries to play catch with Jonathan…and can’t wait to bat (he doesn’t like to practice this at home…I have the sneaking suspicion he likes the crowd clapping and cheering him on at the field, which he doesn’t have in the front yard). When we get in the car to leave, he asks the same question every single time – Do I have another game tomorrow?
For me, I had visions of the end of ‘The Natural’ with Demetrius when he was a baby – tossing the ball back and forth with my son. It isn’t quite that with Demetrius, but when I see him trying to actually do so with Jonathan and the other kids, well, I realize I’m having that moment in a very different way. And John, without the NMML, I wouldn’t be able to get that.
NMML allows everyone there to smile and cheer for these boys and girls on a sunny morning. Moms, Dads and the kids – we all get something out of it. Everyone has a good time, and for most of us, it’s as close to a ‘normal sports experience’ we’ll ever have with these kids. It’s big in their lives, allows many of them to experience what all the other kids do in their schools…well, I could go on and on…but mostly let me just say thank you for all you do with the NMML.